At its core, Patreon is a platform that connects artists and creators with patrons — backers who pay to support said creators. In turn, artists and creatives can share their work on the platform, allowing supporters to access special content and rewards. From music, stories and webcomics to photography, illustrations, videos and podcasts, there’s a lot to enjoy on Patreon — and many creators to support.
Before platforms like Patreon, it was much more difficult for artists and creators to make a living, build a platform, and connect with supporters and fans. Thanks to Patreon, there’s both more access and visibility, which means creators actually get paid for their work every month. But is it the best way to support creatives? We’re taking a closer look.
What Is Patreon?
Artists and creators who use the Patreon website upload the content they wish to share. If they attract fans, those fans might subscribe to their page and support them with monthly payments. Of course, the content you’ll find on any given page varies depending on the creator. For example, photographers often post shots they aren’t sharing elsewhere, while writers might create exclusive newsletters or off writing workshop services. Podcasters and musicians might upload unedited recordings, bonus episodes or alternative tracks.
The Patreon website has a simple design that is easy to use for both creators and subscribers. This allows artists to focus on their work instead of having to deal with the business end of things. It also allows subscribers to feel assured: their monetary support will reach the artists, and they will receive the rewards promised to them.
Creators get to decide how to deliver their content. For example, some Patreon users implement different tiers of support; these membership tiers, which are tied to a different monthly payment amount, are linked to increasingly more exciting rewards. For example, a Patron who pledges $1 to a podcaster might receive a “thank you” shoutout for their efforts, while a Patron who pledges $20 a month might receive something more significant, like a guest spot on the creator’s podcast.
Rewards, of course, vary by creator and medium. Another example? A digital artist’s Patreon page might provide a $1 tier where they share insight and tips on how they come up with ideas for their drawings. Then they might have a $5 tier that provides an exclusive phone wallpaper drawing every month. They might also have a $10 tier offering an exclusive digital drawing every month, or perhaps even a print. Their $20 tier might give access to exclusive video tutorials teaching fans how to create work like theirs.
Moreover, it’s often the case that higher tier Patrons will receive the content and rewards linked to the lower tiers, too. Regardless of the tier a Patron selects, creators are paid in a lump sum at the beginning of every month. This dependable source of income can go a long way in supporting artists — one that’s not tethered to outside variables. For example, during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, musicians who couldn’t hold concerts leaned into Patreon and found ways to provide virtual experiences for fans, all while making up for that missing chunk of income. Better yet, Patreon allows Patrons to support creators, no matter where in the world they live, and this kind of accessibility — and visibility — is a win for us all.
How Did Patreon Start?
In February 2013, Jack Conte thought up what would become Patreon. The idea stemmed from the artist’s own financial needs — needs that weren’t being met by YouTube ad revenue alone. Even though he had 100,000 subscribers on his YouTube channel at the time, Conte still needed a more secure, reliable, and easy way to garner financial support. And it needed to appeal to the those subscribers, who, in essence, were accessing his work for free on YouTube.
To build the website and platform, Conte contacted his old Stanford roommate Sam Yam. Together, the duo co-founded Patreon. When the platform finally launched, Conte asked 40 creators to start their own accounts, but they all declined. In the end, the only original Patreon creators were Conte, his girlfriend, and his roommate.
In order to promote the platform, Conte added a bit at the end of one of his YouTube videos, encouraging people to support him on Patreon, too. In return for their support, Conte offered up access to his newest music video. That exclusive offer alone encouraged fans to provide over $5,000 in support — support that, they hoped, would fund the creator’s future projects, too.
High-Profile Patreon Creators
Patreon has many highly successful creators who earn upwards of $200,000 a year from the platform alone. Last Podcast on the Left, for example, is one of the most successful Patreon accounts ever. The page earns over $80,000 per month and boasts more than 12,000 patrons. Bolstered by in-depth research and amusing banter, the horror podcast delves into real-life horror stories, urban legends, and more. Since the podcast is available on Spotify, Patrons get bonus content, like additional interviews, ad-free episodes, and exclusive video content.
Kirsty Partridge is another high-profile Patreon creator. She has over a million YouTube subscribers on her art tutorial channel where she teaches people how to draw and paint. Some videos are for amateurs, while others are for more seasoned artists. Regardless, there’s something there for everyone who wants to hone their skills. Partridge’s Patreon consists of two tiers — a $14.50 per month tier and a $29 per month tier. With over 2,300 subscribers, Partridge earns at least $30,000 each month.
Is Patreon the Best Way to Support Your Favorite Creators and Artists?
Between 5 and 12 percent of a creator’s earnings go to Patreon. With around 200,000 creators on the platform, Patreon has grown to become a very successful business. For creators, the cut seems to be a small price to pay in exchange for a reputable platform that helps them reach tons of supporters. Still, just because Patreon is the original platform for supporting creators, that doesn’t mean it’s the only one.
For example, platforms such as Buy Me a Coffee and Ko-Fi are two alternatives to Patreon. Buy Me a Coffee boasts over 300,000 creators and allows for one-time donations and tips without the necessity of supporters making an account or subscribing, which many creators (and supporters) prefer. Meanwhile, Ko-Fi has 500,000 creators on its platform, in part because it doesn’t charge any fees, thus allowing all of the money from donations and subscriptions to go right into creators’ pockets. Instead of taking a cut, the company just makes money from its Gold Subscriptions.
Regardless of the platform, supporting your favorite artists and creators monetarily goes a long way. Often, artists post their work on social media platforms for free — or see very little of the ad-generated revenue — which means that Patreon (and platforms like it) are essential revenue streams for creators. As an added bonus, such platforms allow artists to stress less and focus more on their work. Patreon states on its site that it aims to “Change The Way Art Is Valued” — and, clearly, the platform is doing just that by centering the creators who make said art.